NEW YORK: The Dark Knight rose in the Garden, but the final free throw wouldn’t fall.
The Cavs lost another heartbreaker Saturday to the New York Knicks 103-102 when Anderson Varejao’s second free throw with one second left didn’t fall.
Kyrie Irving had a career-high 41 points, but the game came down to Varejao standing at the line with one second left and the Cavs trailing 103-101. He made the first, but with the Garden crowd roaring, Varejao, a 77-percent shooter from the line this season, had his second attempt rattle around and bounced out. J.R. Smith grabbed the rebound as the buzzer sounded, sending the Cavs to another crushing loss in a season filled with them.
Irving was again sensational on offense despite sporting a flashy black facemask that made him look like Batman.
It was an eventful 24 hours for Irving, who missed the team flight Friday night after a CT scan at the Cleveland Clinic revealed a small fracture in his jaw. Irving was injured when his face slammed onto the court in the first quarter of Friday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Irving remained in the game, but was taken to the Clinic after the game and the fracture was revealed. Team doctors quickly scrambled to make a mask for him, but the quick turnaround meant there wasn’t enough time to have the traditional clear mask ready for Saturday’s game.
Instead, Irving arrived in New York at 4:45 p.m. for the 7:30 game – on four hours’ sleep – sporting a black mask that quickly became the target of teammates who nicknamed him the Dark Knight.
It also gives the Cavs three players sporting the masks, since Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller have been wearing them for weeks. In fact, Thompson’s mask has been a target of Irving’s for awhile now.
“It's kind of ironic. I was making fun of Tristan and his straps, now I'm wearing a black facemask,” Irving said before the game. “Go figure.”
He played a season-high 39 minutes in part because Scott was forced to insert him sooner than usual in the fourth quarter. But the Cavs failed to score through the first 2 ½ minutes as the Knicks extended a 78-73 lead to 85-78. Feeling the game slip away, Cavs coach Byron Scott reinserted Irving with nine minutes left and rode him the rest of the way.
Irving had 17 points in the fourth and took the majority of the team’s shots over the final six minutes, but he gave it up to Varejao at the end of the game because Varejao had a clean look at the basket before he was fouled at the rim.
Varejao, playing with a sore calf after he was kicked in Friday’s loss to the Bucks, finished with nine points and eight rebounds. He had just one point entering the fourth quarter.
C.J. Miles had 17 points and eight rebounds and Tristan Thompson had 10 points for the Cavs, who have lost three straight and eight of their last nine.
The Knicks were playing without Carmelo Anthony, Iman Shumpert, Amar’e Stoudemire and Marcus Camby, but still managed to win their fourth straight to maintain the best record in the Eastern Conference.
As for Irving, the Cavaliers are relieved he can play through this latest injury, but it’s just another in a growing list of ailments that have plagued him. The reigning Rookie of the Year has played in 64 of a possible 91 games over his first two seasons.
Saturday marked his fourth game since returning from a fractured left index finger, which cost him 11 games. He missed the Cavs' summer league with a fractured bone in his right hand and last season suffered a shoulder injury and a concussion.
Scott, however, continues to dismiss any concerns that Irving could be injury prone.
"The one last night, you're going to the basket and sometimes you get hit, you're off balance. That's something you can't help," Scott said. "The only one that I see that was really a problem was the one that he did in Vegas because that was kind of self-inflicted. But it didn't cause him really to miss any time. This one is not going to cause him to miss any time as well. Other than that, I don't see him as being, as people would say, injury-prone or anything like that."
Irving said he isn't concerned or frustrated with the mounting injuries. He has now fractured three bones in roughly the last six months, but dismissed them with a simple, "I'm good."
Irving said he isn't in pain and the jaw doesn't really hurt; the mask is simply precautionary.